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Entries in Milk (8)


Dean Ornish on Dieting: Lessons for Parents

Calories are not all the same.  Being thin doesn't mean you're healthy. And, it matters what you eat.

Those were the messages at the heart of Dean Ornish's op-ed piece, published in The New York Times last weekend. 

The New York Times

Ornish was writing in response to a study, published earlier this year that showed that following a low-carb Atkins-type diet might be a fast way to lose weight.  

Ornish made the following points: 

  • "Being thin and being healthy are not the same thing. Some diets may help you lose weight but they won't keep you healthy."
  • "A low-carb diet increases metabolic rates because it's stressful to the body.  Just because something increases your metabolic rate doesn't mean it's good for you.  Amphetamines will also increase your metabolism and burn calories faster, which is why they are used to help people lose weight, at least temporarily. But they stress your body and may mortgage your health in the progress."
  • "What you eat is important as what you exclude—your diet needs to be high in healthful carbs like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes..." The list (and you know what it is) goes on.

So what's this got to do with feeding kids? I think Ornish has tapped into an important point.  

The nutrition mindset has led us to believe, not just that a calorie is a calorie, but that nutrients are nutrients and that it doesn't really matter how we get them.

Giving kids apple juice because it's been fortified with Vitamin C is a good example of this mentality. There are other reasons to give kids juice, i.e. it's a tasty treat.  But because it's been fortified with Vitamin C?

It doesn't make sense from a nutrition perspective. It also doesn't make sense from a habits perspective. 

Read Coke Beats Juice and Water vs. Punch and Soda.

Our cultural obsession with nutrition makes parents susceptible to feeding practices that send their kids' habits in the wrong direction.

That's how parents end up feeding their kids Veggie Pirate's Booty for the spinach, or chocolate milk for the calcium.  Both send kids' habits soaring away from real fruits and vegetables and healthy dairy products and towards junk.

Chocolate milk often has more sugar than a chocolate bar.  Read Chocolate Milk vs. Chocolate Bars.

But it's also the nutrition mindset that propels parents to dumb-down snacks.

They save "nutrition" for mealtimes.  Read Do No Harm Snacking

According to Ornish:

"About 75% of the $2.8 trillion in annual healthcare costs in the United States is from chronic diseases that can often be reversed or prevented altogether by a healthy lifestyle. If we put money and effort into helping people make better food and exercise choices, we could improve our health and reduce the cost of healthcare."

But let's not wait until people need help dieting. Let's help people get it right from the get-go.  Ironically, that means paying more attention to habits than to nutrition.  After all, it's habits (not nutrition) that dictate what people—even little people— choose to eat.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Got Milk? Some Say You Don't Need It

If I had to name a single hot-button issue in the feeding arena it would be milk consumption.

Many parents do crazy things to get more moo into their kids' mouths.  

But milk consumption is one of those places where you have to think a little more about habits than about nutrition.

Of course, when it comes to milk it's harder to think about habits than to think about nutrition because our national dialogue about milk consumption is hysterical—not the funny kind of hysterical either.

Parents are led to believe their kids won't grow properly or that they'll suffer from some sort of early onset osteoporosis (I made that up, I don't think there is such a thing, but you get my point) if their children don't drink every last drop.

Mark Bittman raised a lot of interesting points about milk in The New York Times yesterday and, while Bittman doesn't address the needs of children specifically, his thoughts are definitely worth considering.

According to Bittman's article Got Milk? You Don't Need It:

  • Sugar—in the form of lactose—contributes about 55 percent of skim milk's calories, giving it ounce for ounce the same calorie load as soda. (And yes, Bittman knows that milk contains more nutrients than soda.)
  • Milk is the second most common food allergy after peanuts, affecting an estimated 1.3 million children. According to Bittman, this allergy can be life threatening. (I did not know this.)
  • In Bittman's case, no dairy=no heartburn. (Something to consider if your little pumpkin has acid reflux.)
  • Milk and other dairy products are our biggest source of saturated fat, and there are links between dairy consumption and both Type 1 diabetes and prostate cancer.
  • You don't need milk, or large amounts of calcium, for bone integrity. The rate of fractures is highest in milk-drinking countries. The key to bone strength is exercise and vitamin D.

In my opinion, the most thought-provoking idea Bittman serves up is this: Most humans never tasted fresh milk from any source other than their mothers for almost all of human history.

Until now.  Makes you think.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't encourage your children to drink milk.

My daughter drinks milk, always has.  But if your child doesn't, for some reason, don't freak out, and don't contort yourself trying to get her to drink more.

I would rather produce a child who: 

  • Eats a wide variety of healthy foods even if she drinks no milk at all. 

Rather than produce a child who: 

  • Drinks plenty of milk but who won't, for instance, even look at anything green. 

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~ 


Don't Have a Cow!

The topic of kids and milk is sacrosanct, so it is with a great deal of trepidation that I am going to make a few claims:

  1. Kids don’t need as much calcium as you think. 
  2. You can meet your kids’ calcium needs without resorting to milk.
  3. Non-milk sources of calcium might actually be healthier for your kids both now and in the long run.

I’m not an advocate of the milk-at-any-cost philosophy.  I feel like it often leads to parental panic—who needs more things to worry about? —when kids don’t drink as much milk as we think they need.  And the steps we take (like pestering/pressuring and sweetening/flavoring) are often counterproductive.  Read The (Chocolate) Millk Mistake and Dealin’ with the Devil.

I say: if your kids don’t drink as much milk as you would like them to…don’t have a cow!

(1) Kids don’t need as much calcium as you think.

Daily calcium needs according to the National Institute of Health:

  • 1-3 year olds  = 500 mg
  • 4-8 year olds  = 800 mg
  • 9-18 year olds  = 1,300 mg
  • 19-50 year olds = 1,000 mg

As a point of reference, just one cup (8 ounces) of milk = 300 mg of calcium or…

  • 60% of 1-3 year olds’ daily needs
  • 38% of 4-8 year olds’ daily needs

Milk is pushed so hard by pediatricians because it’s an easy and efficient source of calcium.

(2) You can meet your kids’ calcium needs without resorting to milk.

Of course, you can give your kids any kind of dairy food and they’ll get calcium: 

  • 8 ounces of low fat plain yogurt = 415 mg  (Note: The equivalent in fruit yogurt has less calcium because the container contains less yogurt due to the fruit, or other yogurt-displacing, additives.)
  • 1.5 ounces of Cheddar cheese = 306 mg
  • ½ cup of vanilla ice cream has 85 mg

But dairy food is just another form of serving up milk.  All plant foods -- fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and nuts -- also have calcium.  

True, plant foods have less calcium per serving, but every bite adds up.  If your children consume the following diet they will take in 624 mg of calcium:

  • Breakfast = 1 cup of dry Cheerios = 100 mg
  • Lunch = 2 slices of white bread = 62 mg
  • Snack = 1 oz of dry roasted almonds = 76 mg
  • Dinner = ½ cup of soft tofu = 138 mg, ½ cup of frozen spinach = 146 mg, ½ cup of canned white beans = 102 mg

I know this seems like you have to give your kids a lot of food to fulfill their calcium needs but think of it this way: even if you give your kids milk, you still have to feed them other foods too.  Why not worry less about the milk and focus on providing a variety of foods instead?  It will promote better lifelong habits and the calcium will take care of itself.

(One the other hand, you could just give your child one cup of Total Raisin Bran.  It has 1000 mg of calcium, without the milk.)

Read the USDA report Milk Group and Alternatives.

(3) Non-milk sources of calcium might actually be healthier for your kids in the long run.

Noted nutrition Marion Nestle makes the following points in her excellent book What to Eat:

  • Cow’s milk is high in calcium, but it is also high in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.   Just as importantly, some components of dairy (such as magnesium, potassium, vitamin D) promote calcium retention, but other components (such as protein, phosphorous and sodium) promote its excretion.  
  • Plant foods have smaller doses of calcium but they also have fewer substances that promote calcium loss.
  • Healthy bones need a host of nutrients, and calcium balance depends on getting enough of every one of the nutrients involved in building bones.
  • In parts of the world where cow’s milk is not a staple of the diet, people often have less osteoporosis and fewer bone fractures than we do; they maintain calcium balance perfectly well on less than half the calcium intake recommended for Americans.
  • In America, dairy products are enhanced, sometimes beyond the point of recognition (and health).  Most yogurts targeted to kids are better thought of as desserts.  For instance, 55% of the 80 calories in Go-Gurt, comes from sugar and some of Stonyfield’s fruit yogurts have no fruit in them at all.

Today's American obsession with milk is a byproduct of the dairy industry’s highly successful marketing and lobbying campaign.

According to the milk industry, milk consumption began to decline in the 1960s.  Then they got to work! And...

[W]e have seen enormous change with the industry’s successful image program (the National Milk Mustache “got milk?”Campaign), as well as significant progress in re-tooling our industry to be a competitive player in the world of beverages with expanded distribution, new packaging, flavors and products.

Read the Milk Processor Education Report.

Don't worry so much about milk. Research shows that plant foods are probably the most beneficial foods you can eat, but consuming too much dairy, even in childhood, is worse than not eating enough.


~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~


Additional Sources:

Bittman, M., 2009. Food Matters: a Guide to Conscious Eating. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Nestle, M., 2006. What to Eat. New York: North Point Press.